Recently, I read a few stories by Reggie Oliver in the Terror Tales anthologies edited by Paul Finch. First, I came across “Holiday From Hell”. It had a unique premise and memorable characters. It ended up being one of my favorite stories in the book. Next up was “Striding Edge”. I loved it! It struck my so much it sent me on a search through my book collection for more Reggie Oliver stories. I found “Trouble at Botathan” next and was absolutely riveted by it. I’ve since read several more of his tales in a short period of time. Reggie Oliver has now joined the ranks of names I look for in the table of contents of the anthologies I buy.
- “Striding Edge” (2011) – A young man spends a summer vacation with his aunt and her friend, who co-own a sweet shop in the Lake District of England in a village called Urnthwaite. When he goes with his aunt’s friend to climb an area of the mountain called Helvellyn, he meets a schoolmate he never particularly liked leading a pack of younger kids as part of a group called the Greenwood Folk. This chance encounter is the beginning of a mystery surrounding the cult-like Greenwood Folk, some former classmates, and a presence that seems to inhabit the area. This an excellent tale by Oliver.
- “Hand To Mouth” (2011) – In this novelette, a struggling actor accepts a job to live in and maintain an ancient chateau that his millionaire cousin recently purchased. He finds the place eerily quiet at first, but later hears a terrible screech and the sound of a baby crying. Later he feels the touch of a dead child’s hand. Researching the chateau’s history reveals it once housed a beautiful, ageless, Italian Countess who was likely a vampire that fed on local girls from the village. The housesitter also surmises there must be a large, secret chamber hidden somewhere in the chateau, which he sets about attempting to locate.
- “Flowers of the Sea” (2011) – A husband witnesses his wife’s memory gradually deteriorate after they each suffer a momentary mental flash where they seem to be falling through the sky toward a sea of strange liquid. They always shared a slight psychic connection with each other, but only she is permanently effected by the incident. Her artwork is changed as well, focusing on withering plants from that point on. This is a poignant tale with allusions to watching a loved one suffer with dementia.
- “Didman’s Corner” (2012) – Written as an homage to Robert Aickman, this is the story of a man who moves back to his childhood hometown in Suffolk. He finds himself suffering tremendous fear while passing by an old, cottage near a local church. He can’t recall why he feels such dread of the place, but he begins to see an eerie pale woman looking just past him whenever he nears it. He also meets an overly-friendly caretaker of the church who insists he meet his strange, reclusive wife. Reggie Oliver did a great job nailing the Aickman-style here. I was drawn in by the eerie mystery of the setting and the peculiar people the protagonist encountered there.
- “The Spooks of Shellborough” (2012) – Two retired MI5 agents, the introverted Wentworth and boisterous Sir Frederick Horner, both who served as “spooks” (black ops specialists), retire to the town of Shellborough. Wentworth befriends a local bookstore owner, and the two become regular golf partners. The bookstore owner soon discovers Wentworth and Sir Fredrick have deep disdain for each other due to a traumatic event that took place while they worked together. He also keeps seeing a mysterious, young woman in a midriff who’s constantly covering her face following Wentworth. The rivalry between these two adversaries continues to mount throughout the story as the unknown woman keeps making her presence known.
- “Mrs. Midnight” (2012) – This novelette follows the forty year old host of a popular television competition called I Can Make You A Star. He agrees to help a fund-raising project to save a long abandoned, historic music hall called Old Essex largely due to his attraction to the younger woman heading the campaign named Jill. The music hall, which had initially been shut down after a fire, is in terrible condition. While exploring it, he discovers a partially burned handbill of acts from an 1888 show. One of them was for Mrs. Midnight and Her Animal Comedians. He agrees to look into it further to impress Jill. This investigation ends up taking many strange, intriguing turns which includes the bizarre Mrs. Midnight who’s not what she seem to be, the involvement of a Jack The Ripper suspect, strange medical experiments, and more.
- “Holiday From Hell” (2013) – A struggling stage manager moves to Brightsea to take a theater job. After much searching he finds a run down hotel where he convinces the owner to let him rent the attic for several months at a cheap rate. All the other rooms are taken by a strange collection of elderly people on holiday from a retirement home in Diss. They’re very distinctive in their attitudes and appearances and are led by a middle-aged woman named Miss Eve Harriman. He soon discovers they may not be what they initially appear to be. This is a very effective, creepy tale.
- “Trouble at Botathan” (2015) – After encountering a disembodied female entity in a remote cottage in a forest in Botathan, an introspective college student is unexpectedly invited to attend a professor’s reading party at an old house with other students. He becomes fascinated reading a journal he finds on a shelf in the place. It was written by a young woman with the initials D.D. There is a connection between this girl and the entity in the forest. This is an instantly absorbing story that kept me riveted all the way through to the end.
Article by Matt Cowan